Abstract

Meeting global and national climate goals requires action and cooperation from a multitude of actors1,2. Current methods to define greenhouse gas emission targets for companies fail to acknowledge the unique influence of fossil fuel producers: combustion of reported fossil fuel reserves has the potential to push global warming above 2 °C by 2050, regardless of other efforts to mitigate climate change3. Here, we introduce a method to compare the extraction rates of individual fossil fuel producers against global climate targets, using two different approaches to quantify a burnable fossil fuel allowance (BFFA). BFFAs are calculated and compared with cumulative extraction since 2010 for the world’s ten largest investor-owned companies and ten largest state-owned entities (SOEs), for oil and for gas, which together account for the majority of global oil and gas reserves and production. The results are strongly influenced by how BFFAs are quantified; allocating based on reserves favours SOEs over investor-owned companies, while allocating based on production would require most reduction to come from SOEs. Future research could refine the BFFA to account for equity, cost-effectiveness and emissions intensity.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Sullivan, R. & Gouldson, A. Ten years of corporate action on climate change: what do we have to show for it? Energy Policy 60, 733–740 (2013).

  2. 2.

    Gouldson, A. & Sullivan, R. Long-term corporate climate change targets: what could they deliver? Environ. Sci. Policy 27, 1–10 (2013).

  3. 3.

    McGlade, C. & Ekins, P. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 517, 187–190 (2015).

  4. 4.

    Steffen, W. et al. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347, 1259855 (2015).

  5. 5.

    IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. R. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).

  6. 6.

    Heede, R. & Oreskes, N. Potential emissions of CO2 and methane from proved reserves of fossil fuels: an alternative analysis. Glob. Environ. Change 36, 12–20 (2016).

  7. 7.

    Meinshausen, M. et al. Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 458, 1158–1162 (2009).

  8. 8.

    Raupach, M. R. et al. Sharing a quota on cumulative carbon emissions. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 873–879 (2014).

  9. 9.

    Meinshausen, M. et al. National post-2020 greenhouse gas targets and diversity-aware leadership. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 1098–1106 (2015).

  10. 10.

    Grasso, M. & Roberts, J. T. A compromise to break the climate impasse. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 543–549 (2014).

  11. 11.

    Hohne, N., Den Elzen, M. & Escalante, D. Regional GHG reduction targets based on effort sharing: a comparison of studies. Clim. Policy 14, 122–147 (2014).

  12. 12.

    Peters, G. P. et al. Key indicators to track current progress and future ambition of the Paris Agreement. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 118–122 (2017).

  13. 13.

    Blok, K. et al. Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 471–474 (2012).

  14. 14.

    Persson, A. & Rockstrom, J. Business leaders. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 426–427 (2011).

  15. 15.

    Climate Commitments of Subnational Actors and Business: A Quantitative Assessment of Their Emission Reduction Impact (United Nations Environment Programme, 2015).

  16. 16.

    Krabbe, O. et al. Aligning corporate greenhouse-gas emissions targets with climate goals. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 1057–1060 (2015).

  17. 17.

    Randers, J. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of value added (“GEVA”))—a corporate guide to voluntary climate action. Energy Policy 48, 46–55 (2012).

  18. 18.

    Heede, R. Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010. Climatic Change 122, 229–241 (2014).

  19. 19.

    Friedlingstein, P. et al. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nat. Geosci. 7, 709–715 (2014).

  20. 20.

    IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 (OECD, 2012).

  21. 21.

    Ellerman, A. D. & Buchner, B. K. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme: origins, allocation, and early results. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 1, 66–87 (2007).

  22. 22.

    Perdan, S. & Azapagic, A. Carbon trading: current schemes and future developments. Energy Policy 39, 6040–6054 (2011).

  23. 23.

    Tippee, B. OPEC’s reserves reflect politics—and a lot of oil. Oil Gas J. 108, 136 (2010).

  24. 24.

    Simmons, M. R. Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (Wiley, New York, 2015).

  25. 25.

    New York AG investigating Exxon’s accounting practices: source. Reuters (16 September 2016); https://www.reuters.com/article/us-exxon-mobil-probe/new-york-ag-investigating-exxons-accounting-practices-source-idUSKCN11M113

  26. 26.

    Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 (OECD/IEA, 2017); www.iea.org/etp

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank P. Burns, P. Dargusch and D. Lee for helpful feedback on the original manuscript, and J. Escobar, Q. Fu, S. Iacovella, M. Navarro and R. Rekker for research assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. UQ Business School, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Saphira A. C. Rekker
    •  & Jacquelyn E. Humphrey
  2. School of Chemical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Katherine R. O’Brien
  3. Energy and Poverty Research Group, UQ Energy Initiative, School of Chemical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Andrew C. Pascale

Authors

  1. Search for Saphira A. C. Rekker in:

  2. Search for Katherine R. O’Brien in:

  3. Search for Jacquelyn E. Humphrey in:

  4. Search for Andrew C. Pascale in:

Contributions

S.A.C.R., J.E.H. and K.R.O. designed the study, J.E.H. and K.R.O. supervised the project. S.A.C.R. collected, verified, processed and analysed the data, and wrote the paper. A.C.P. and K.R.O. contributed to the data analysis. J.E.H., K.R.O. and A.C.P. reviewed and edited the manuscript. All authors contributed to the methods and interpretation of the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saphira A. C. Rekker.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0158-1